Girls tell Hudson board bullying persists at school

HUDSON–Bullying, teacher evaluations, and enrollment declines came up during this week’s meeting of the Hudson City School District Board of Education.

Laura Miller, director of Perfect 10, an after-school program geared for intermediate and junior high school girls, said at the Monday, May 11 meeting that every day at least one of her charges arrives crying because people had bullied and harassed her. To stop bullying and harassment, schools notify parents of students who engage in such behavior, sometimes suspend such students, and give anti-bullying lessons. But Ms. Miller said bullying continues.

“We need more eyes in the hallway,” said Ms. Miller. “Will the Community Schools program you’re starting help?”

“Does most bullying take place in the stairways and hallways?” asked Superintendent Maria Suttmeier.

Ms. Miller had brought four girls from Perfect 10 to the meeting. She and the girls responded to the superintendent’s question with examples of other places bullying and harassment occurs: at lunch, recess, gym and in classrooms with a substitute teachers. Furthermore, one said, “it doesn’t end with school.” It continues, they said, on the way home from school and online.

Ms. Suttmeier asked, “Do the students have solutions?”

The girls’ responses implied a need for something other than current approaches:

  • “I can tell a teacher, but the teacher won’t do anything.”
  • “The hall monitors are friends of the bullies.”
  • “If someone is suspended, when they come back, they’re harder on you. They’re more vicious, because they blame you.”

Board President Peter Rice told the girls, “Your issue is important,” and that the board must act on it.

Of the four girls, two attend Hudson and two attend other schools, including one from a private school. In speaking of bullying the girls and Ms. Miller did not distinguish between instances in Hudson and those at other schools. One girl said she had left the Hudson district to escape harassment only to experience it at her new school.

Later Ms. Suttmeier said, “It’s not just our district with kids being bullied. It’s our society.”

Meanwhile the Hudson district plans to hire a full-time teacher evaluator in anticipation of the number of formal observations each tenured teacher must undergo per year increasing from one to two. “It’s a Catch 22 situation,” Coordinator of School Improvement April Prestipino said. “It’s hard to justify hiring someone full-time who isn’t a teacher. If it’s our needs or the children’s needs, we put the children’s needs first.”

But in order to stay within the budget that faces voters May 19, hiring the evaluator meant postponing a math special education teacher for the junior high for a year.

Another aspect of teacher evaluation mentioned by board members is the judging of teachers by their students’ test scores and pass rates. This has put teachers “in an environment of fear for their jobs,” said board member Maria McLaughlin.

Board Vice President and Hudson mayoral candidate Tiffany Hamilton depicted teachers “under stress,” spending more time with students who need help passing at the expense of providing challenge and enrichment for students likely to pass the test anyway.

Ms. Hamilton also called attention to “families leaving they district. They transfer their children to private school, move out of the district, or home school. We have a real problem.” Some such parents she has spoken to had tried repeatedly to talk with teachers and other school officials and now say they believe the district is glad to see them leave, because their viewed as “a complainer.”

“Total enrollment is down,” acknowledged Board Member Sage Carter, adding, “The kids who left—the ones I know—would have helped their teachers achieve better ratings” had they stayed.

Ms. Hamilton suggested the district start tackling this problem by holding a huge informal meeting for “a more diverse range of stakeholders” than usually come to board and other routine meetings. “Let’s go completely out of the box,” she said, hoping for a meeting where people would feel free to “come out and say what’s [really] bothering them.” The only restriction would be that “if you come with a problem, you have to come with at least one solution.”

Board member David Kisselburgh said that the empty audience seats at board meetings showed that “the community is out of touch with us.”

Ms. Suttmeier reminded the meeting that in losing students “Hudson is not unique. People are transient. This is happening across New York state. Renters change apartments. Parents change jobs.” Some people move out of a district, but others move in. And, Ms. Suttmeier continued, “We need a variety of students.”

The next HCSD meeting will take place Tuesday, May 19, 9 pm at John L. Edwards Primary School, to see the results of the May 19 vote on the budget and two open board seats.

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